Uber’s Hong Kong team says it is “working really hard” to prove to US senior management that the business has a future in the city, following the ride-hailing service’s withdrawal in Southeast Asia.
Kenneth She Chun-chi, general manager of the company’s Hong Kong operation, stressed the changes elsewhere in Asia would not affect Uber’s day-to-day business in the city.
Regionally the Uber brand has continued to shrink, leaving just Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan with a presence following the firm’s announcement two weeks ago that it would exit Southeast Asia after a merger with arch-rival Grab.
In 2016, Uber sold its mainland China business to local ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing.
Among the issues facing Uber, which has 30,000 registered drivers in Hong Kong, is that it remains illegal in the city.
“Hong Kong will still operate as usual regardless of the Southeast Asia merger a few weeks ago,” She said. “We launched here in 2014 and were not affected by the merger in China in 2016. What happened elsewhere will have no impact on our daily operation.”
The Uber boss added: “Our team in Hong Kong is working really hard to prove to our senior management and to the entire world that we are a very high demand service.”
The company, which has faced opposition from the Hong Kong government and traditional taxi drivers, has had serious issues with law enforcement since its launch.
The city’s Uber drivers risk being prosecuted for offences such as driving without a permit and third-party insurance. Five drivers were convicted last March and in December another 23 were charged with carrying passengers for reward.
To prove to management the business’s worth, the local operation commissioned Chinese University, one of Hong Kong’s top higher education institutions, to find out people’s views on the city’s transport services. The survey last summer found 76 per cent of the 540 respondents wanted more choice, including Uber.
“I think competition is a good thing. I think we are one of the entrants in the broader transport industry in Hong Kong,” She said.
“What I am seeing here is strong demand and people liking the service. Of course we will continue operating in Hong Kong and do our best to serve.”
There are also other initiatives. Uber Hong Kong celebrated the one-year anniversary of its UberAssist service which caters to expectant mothers, the disabled and elderly. Specially trained drivers and vehicles that can handle wheelchairs are used. Passengers seeking special help are charged the same rate as a basic service, Uber X.
Uber also said it will offer free rides to NGOs, setting aside HK$1 million (US$128,200) to help transport needy people.
For Uber in Southeast Asia, however, the ride-hailing competition is over. It agreed to swap its business in the fast-growing region – home to more than 630 million people – to Singapore-based Grab for a 27.5 per cent stake in its rival.